So far in this series of posts, we’ve looked at team effectiveness: what it is, why it’s important, and what impact it has. To wrap up this topic, I want to share how you can measure it - whether informally or formally.
Measurement is a critical part of ensuring that teams are effective. Measurement helps teams focus their energy on the characteristics of team effectiveness that need the most attention.
After all, teams differ because the people on each team bring with them their own skills, experiences, motivations and desires to change. Because of the diversity of team members, it’s important to understand how that impacts the needs and focus of a developing team. Without any kind of measure, there is nothing to determine if the team development efforts are actually effective.
There are two approaches to measuring team effectiveness: informal and formal strategies. Let’s start with informal measures. These are observational indicators, of which there are several: the degree to which you see effective active listening and inquiry, decision making, and a positive emotional culture on a team. Let’s look at each in turn:
- Active listening and inquiry. Do team members inquire about each others’ individual perspectives and positions in a non-confrontational way? Are team members interrupting each other? Are they simply advocating for their positions instead of inquiring? Are conversations ending without any resolution? One of the things that we have often seen when we start working with teams is that decisions can’t be made because team conversations simply consist of each member sharing their perspective. This stalls the conversation and subsequent decisions because the individual positions just sit on the table with nowhere to go. No one has sought to understand or build on anyone else’s positions. When this happens, teams walk out unsure if a decision has been made, thereby sowing the seeds of confusion and misunderstanding. Then the team wonders why it has a hard time making decisions!
- Decision making. Does the team explicitly employ decision making tools or models? When a decision has to be made by the team, does it discuss how the decision needs to be made? For example, is it explicit that the decision will be made after collecting input? Or, alternatively, is it explicit that the decision will be based on the consensus of the team? Is it clear and explicit why the decision is being made and based on what information? Has the team agreed to the information that will be used to make the decision - in advance of making it?
- Emotional culture on a team. This is related to psychological safety - which is defined as the degree to which team members are not afraid to be open about each other, to share their perspectives, and to challenge each other without fear of retribution. How often do team members openly challenge others’ perspective or present a contrasting one? Are team members comfortable uncovering mistakes and admitting to them - or is the culture only about sharing good news? Is the culture overly polite in person and then side conversations begin outside of the meeting?
Next, there are more formal measures of team effectiveness, which come in the form of diagnostic surveys completed by team members. Two that we have found valuable are the Team Diagnostic Survey and the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey.
- The Team Diagnostic Survey is a team effectiveness assessment based on the research of Richard Hackman, formerly at Harvard, and presented in his book, “Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances”. The assessment identifies the degree to which the 6 enabling conditions (“the essentials”) of team effectiveness are present and helps teams to develop greater awareness and the necessary norms to strengthen any missing or weak conditions. The assessment also helps teams to understand the impact of these conditions on key task processes and how they affect the key dimensions of team effectiveness. It’s helpful to run this survey at the start of working with a team and a couple of months after the team starts regularly implementing practices to improve.
- The Team Emotional Intelligence Survey is based on the research of Dr. Vanessa Druskat and Dr. Steven Wolff and featured in the March 2001 HBR article, “Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups”. The survey instrument has been developed in studies of over 140 teams, and enables assessment of team emotional intelligence norms, team fundamental processes, and team social capital. This assessment helps teams to:
- Increase awareness about norms and behaviors that can improve performance
- Surface hidden problems or concerns that are getting in the way of achieving optimal levels of performance
- Identify how to build a team culture that fosters trust, effective team processes, and continuous improvement.
Working with teams on becoming more effective is like any other form of leadership development - it’s a journey, not a destination. Constant reminders and vigilance towards the behaviors and actions exhibited and taken by team members is necessary. In supporting teams on their development journey, you can play an active role by:
- Providing informal or formal team assessments periodically. For informal assessments, this may mean observing a team meeting for signs of progress using some of the indicators above, and replaying specific moments in the meeting in the last 5 minutes to illustrate themes you noticed. Formal survey-based assessments can also be conducted for the team at intervals.
- Coaching the team leader on how to manage the attention of the group, ensuring team dynamics get noticed and talked about during moments of positive or negative interaction.
- Coaching the team leader on how to model a commitment to a growth perspective through the team’s work. Leaders do this best when they are open with the team about their own areas for development, and how senior teams in your organization are working on their own effectiveness.
It’s important for teams to remember that their work is about two things: the content of their work, and how they work together. Team effectiveness is all about the latter and equally as important as the former.
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